Review: Caste

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Publication: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 8/4/2020

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: “As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of America life today.

Review: Caste is the first book I’ve read from Isabel Wilkerson. I’m kicking myself for not picking up Caste earlier. What an incredible book! Though I’m familiar with American and German history, I was blown away on Indian history regarding caste. It was fascinating to learn the caste systems in the U.S., Germany, and India and how each of those similar. I also liked the way that the author not only objectively explained what happened in the past, but how those actions have affected present day. Overall, I highly recommend reading this book. As others mentioned, I agree that this should be required reading for everyone.

Rating: 5/5

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